Weaver from the Orioles, invited me to take charge. I should have checked first with Williams, because the kids, lawyerlike, now have me contractually gound to drive them to their away games. Could it have been that having access to a station wagon was the managerial talent they most admired in me?
As the chauffeur-manager, my first discovery was that my nine players wanted to take their pre-game calisthenics in the car -- exercising their lungs, leaping over seats to get next to the window and jumping to conclusions that I was a wealing because I obeyed the speed limit.
When we arrived at the other team's field, the subject of speed again came up. Their pitcher had it. We gaped at his fast ball as he warmed up.
Tall and long-armed, he threw hard and low. He reminded me of the way Ewell (The Whip) Blackwell -- an underballer -- used to pitch and the way Sandy Koufax used to think. Said the latter: "Pitching is . . . the art of instilling fear."
This kid on the mound was a born instiller. Gazing at him, one of my players whipered to me, "I don't wanna bat." It's all right, I answered, we have a helmet for you. "I still don't want to bat." Just then, the pitcher, like a sonar man picking up shock waves of fear and wanting the thrill of hearing louder bleeps, reared back and sent in a pitch that sailed over the catcher's head by five feet. It went into my player's imagination by another five.
The wild pitch brought to mind the comment of Early Wynn, the old Cleveland Indian pitcher of such competitive terror that in one game he dusted back his own son: "I've got a right to knock down anyone holding a bat."
I held back on my Early Wynn stories. Tell you what, I told my lad, I'll p ut you up ninth: That way Koufax II out there on the mound will have eight kids before you to terrify. By then, he'll be bored scaring people.
That seemed to offer some comfort. Then, as the bumper stickers advise, I gave the kid a hug. It helped his confidence. He was ready to play.
Now I was a chauffeur-manager-psychologist. I was also in the company of my favorite comtemporary manager, Tom Lasorda of the Los Angeles, nee Brooklyn, Dodgers.
At spring training in Vero Beach a few years ago, Tom addressed himself to the cosmic baseball question of managerial displays of affection: "It's been said you shouldn't hug your players. I've been reading the rule book for years and I have yet to find a clause that reads you can't hug your players. It also has been said that a manager shouldn't eat with his players, or go visit them in their homes. I do both. We are told, too, to be sparing in our praise so that the players will feel we're sincere. I praise everyone. Like my pop said, show me a law in the United States that says I can't tell everyone he's great."
In the style of Pop Lasorda, I wanted to tell my players that they were great -- except that in this game they weren't. Only the batting helmets were having a good day. When we fell back by 10 runs, then 12, perhaps I should have become a stomper and shouter and looked for a water cooler to kick. Or an umpire to bait.
But the demon of the fanatical Little League parent isn't in me. I may be fired by the squad for publicly admitting this, but I don't know our win-loss record this season. I don't know who has the most hits or the least errors. During the games, I forget the score.
I assume that if the kids wanted a computer, instead of a chauffeur-manager-psychologist, they would have picked one up, maybe in a trade. All they have in me is someone who likes their company.
Baseball, I want them to know, is a social sport. With the wretched example before them of Major League owners and players snarling at each other over money, this is a truth that may, like Koufax II's fireball, be going right past them.